The folks at Media Matters for America are angry at the press. In a sublimely ironic post, Eric Boehlert fumes, “As Republicans seek to gain a partisan advantage by ginning up fear about the Ebola virus… they’re getting a major assist from the news media.” Boehlert believes that media coverage of Ebola has abetted the GOP’s low designs by creating the “unfair” impression that the Obama administration is somehow incompetent. “If the news media’s job is to educate, and especially to clarify during times of steep public concerns, then the news media have utterly failed during the Ebola threat.”
Presumably, this indictment includes notorious right-wing rags like the New York Times, which recently published an op-ed by Joe Nocera that points out the obvious: “When you think about it, many of the Obama administration’s ‘scandals’ have been failures of competence.” Unlike Boehlert, Nocera recalls the bungled rollout of Obamacare, the neglect of patients by the Veterans Medical Healthcare System, and sees their connection to the mismanagement of the Ebola mess by the Centers for Disease Control: “The Ebola outbreak is not exactly enhancing the CDC’s reputation for competence.”
Nocera has a gift for understatement. When the first known case of Ebola on U.S. soil was discovered, the director of the CDC assured the public, “We are stopping Ebola in its tracks in this country.” Shortly thereafter, two Americans were diagnosed with the disease, one of whom had been permitted by CDC officials to board a crowded airplane though she reported suspicious symptoms and was known to have had contact with the initial victim in Dallas. Then, after the CDC director confidently advised us that most U.S. hospitals were prepared to handle Ebola, this was shown to be nonsense.
Yet, as Charles Krauthammer writes, the Obama administration still refuses to take obvious steps to protect Americans: “British Airways has already canceled all flights to the affected countries in West Africa. We haven’t… The CDC argues that a travel ban would stop the flow of medical assistance to West Africa. This is silly. Simply make an exception for health-care workers.” This would seem to be a matter of simple common sense. But common sense is evidently in short supply at the White House. During his weekly radio address, the President made it clear that he has no intention of authorizing such a travel ban.
Reaching into his bag of rhetorical tricks, Obama produced a straw man: “[W]e can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging.… Trying to seal off an entire region of the world—if that were even possible—could actually make the situation worse.” It goes without saying, of course, that no one has suggested sealing off an entire region of the world. And, as for his ostensible concern that a travel ban would “cause people… to evade screening,” that’s already happening. The single Ebola patient who has thus far died in the U.S. got here precisely by concealing his exposure to the disease.
We are told that the President is seething about the CDC’s mismanagement of Ebola, but the one definitive step he himself has taken is not likely to bolster confidence in his own competence. Last week, we learned that Obama has made Ron Klain his “Ebola Czar.” Is Klain a physician with a background in public health or infectious diseases? Nope. He’s a Democrat political operative who’s most recent noteworthy “accomplishment” involved perpetrating the Solyndra scam. And his commitment to the task at hand is such that he has already missed two White House meetings on the crisis since his appointment.
Why would the President appoint this character to such a sensitive position? Well, anyone who has worked with incompetent “leaders” will tell you that they prefer to surround themselves with sycophants of mediocre ability. This has characterized Obama’s administration from his choice of Joe Biden as his running mate to his choices to fill positions at major agencies like the VA and HHS. And, like most such leaders, Obama has lost the few good people he recruited. Leon Panetta, for example, has suggested that he left his position as Secretary of Defense pursuant to a presidential “leadership vacuum” concerning Iraq.
This is why people like Valerie Jarrett have such inordinate influence on the President. Unlike Panetta, his current inner circle doesn’t push Obama to make decisions on Iraq, Ebola, or anything else. His “advisors” don’t care if veterans are neglected in VA hospitals, if millions of people lose their insurance, or even if their boss appears as though he doesn’t know what he’s doing. They give Obama bad advice, leavened with flattery, and encourage him to think that his only problem is poor messaging. All of which explains Klain, and why most Americans believe that the White House is infected with incompetence.
The fawning press corps is also responsible for creating an environment in which this infection can easily spread, which is why the complaints of Media Matters are so profoundly ironic. If the “news” media had done their job from the outset of Obama’s presidency, the scrutiny might have prevented some of his countless blunders. The mishandling of the Ebola crisis might seem anomalous rather than typical, and congressional candidates might be willing to go near him without a hazmat suit. As it is, both they and the voters can see that the Obama administration is infected with the incompetence virus.